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I turned my phone over to discover a message from Siri – “I’m sorry you feel that way. Talking to a friend or family member can really help.” Before I could finish thinking, “What the heck?”, I was stunned and a little ashamed of myself.
You see, I’d asked my husband to take a picture of my back the night before an appointment with my dermatologist to have some harmless but unattractive-to-me stuff removed. As he handed my phone back to me, I said something along the lines of “Gross! Turn it off! I don’t want to see a picture of that right now. I have the ugliest back in the whole world.”
My phone (my PHONE!) had overheard me and was attempting to take care of me in a way I wasn’t doing for myself. That’s where the shame comes in – I know better than this. The very first step of the philosophy I teach and try to live is non-violence for Pete’s sake! I know we are our meanest and cruelest selves to ourselves.
Some lessons must be learned over and over again
A less well-known notion than how-important-it-is-to-our-well-being-that-we-be-kind-gentle-accepting- and-forgiving-with-ourselves is the fact that lessons like this are not learned just once. Fundamental life lessons like this one are more like the spiral curriculum currently used to teach evolving skills like math in schools. We brush up against them (or collide with them in my case) over and over again, each time going a little deeper because we’re a little more experienced.
The first time I learned to be kind to my body was the first year of my marriage. Living with a man who ate when he was hungry without questioning the hunger or stopping to count the calories was stunningly liberating. At the end of that year, not only had my relationship with food and my body begun healing, but I was not fat!
The second time I learned to be kind to my body was when I discovered yoga. For the first time in my life, I began thinking about my body for all it could do and for its strength rather than for what it looked like. This was freedom I never even gave myself a chance to doubt. I’d never before felt so good – inside and out.
We are different each time we re-learn these lessons
I feel profoundly grateful that Siri “caught me” the other night. Sometimes getting caught is exactly the wakeup call we need that we’ve drifted off course. I may have learned how to be kind to my body (or at the very least to treat it without animosity) before, but I’ve never learned this lesson with a body that is beginning to show its age.
As I sat, a little stunned, on my bed that night I realized that Siri was right in ways she could not overhear. Looking back over the last five years or so, I can see a pattern of change that I did not realize was happening. I have started avoiding my reflection unless absolutely necessary. I am shyer about wearing shorts in public. I am hesitant about being in a bathing suit on a beach or a boat. In short, even without the vitriol of that night, I have slipped away from treating my body with acceptance, kindness, and appreciation for all that it allows me to do in life.
This pattern of behavior is both familiar and scary to me. I spent most of my youth living with unrecognized, low-grade self-loathing. I do not want to lose the freedom I gained when my husband, yoga, and simple time on the planet helped me to let that go. I am grateful for the resistance I feel to the notion that a little extra time on the planet should be allowed to steal that freedom back. And so, it is time to return a familiar lesson – a lesson I know works – and grapple with it in a whole new way.
Sign me up for AP-level self-acceptance!
This time, not only will I be practicing loving-kindness to my body, but also to my whole self. There is no failure in returning to this lesson. This is not relapse or regression. This is deeper work. Because I’ve never been in my mid-fifties before. I’ve never loved a body as it starts to shift and change in ways that I am not able to control or change. This moment is an invitation to advance to “AP level” self-acceptance, nonviolence, and letting go.
Thanks to Siri, I am fired up to pass with honors – again.
PS Check out Dan Harris’s TED talk that inspired the title of this essay.
It is said that the way we love ourselves is the way we love others. Practicing self-acceptance is one way of making this world of ours a better place. Check out the yoga, philosophy, and spirituality pages on my website to learn more.